|The animation team of Paul and Sandra Fierlinger do artistic justice to J.R. Ackerley|
I had the good fortune of viewing a very special film at the recent San Francisco International Film Festival—an animated adaption of J.R. Ackerley’s My Dog Tulip. Ackerley’s memoir, first published in Britain in 1956, revolves around his 14-year relationship with an Alsatian named Tulip. The book’s perceived raunchiness, highlighted by the author’s mediations on “defecation and mating” caused quite a stir when it first debuted but over the years has found its place as one of the “greatest masterpieces of animal literature” as proclaimed by Christopher Isherwood. This humorous and often moving book is a poignant observation of a friendship that proved to be the happiest years of author’s life. The masterful animation team of Paul and Sandra Fierlinger (Still Life with Animate Dogs) have created a rare achievement, an imaginative and faithful interpretation of a literary classic. The story is firmly rooted in a time and place (postwar England) but the simple routines of man and dog (walks, poop, pee, barking) are a source of examination that dog people will truly appreciate. The complexities of the human-animal bond are explored with a thoughtfulness rarely seen. Fierlinger’s drawing/painting style is magical and surprising throughout, making the characters come to life in the most imaginative ways. The film is a refreshing break from the hyperrealism that dominates today’s animated features, with the art showing the hand of the artist in all its quirky, lively expressions—and is better for it. The Fierlingers pulls off an amazing feat by depicting different levels of reality with distinct drawings styles, thus the imagined scenes in Ackerley’s head become delightful pixie renditions executed as stick figures, but for all their simplicity are absolutely hilarious. In short, the film has soul, something I find missing in much of today’s animation. Christopher Plummer lends his superb voice to the author’s character, and the late Lynn Redgrave, as the author’s protective sister, and Isabella Rossellini, as Tulip’s comforting vet, round out a first rate production. My Dog Tulip is set for a fall release, and should be on the list of everybody who loves a good dog tale. View the trailer here.